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Sunday 24 June 2018

Cover To Cover

I've talked about covers before, right over here - picking out some that I have hated in the past, and taking a good long look at one that I adore from the present.

Well. Just to prove that I'm not just a hater for hater's sake, I would like to present to you several covers which I feel are better than the originals - and a couple which are pretty neck-and-neck, so you'll have to make your own mind up.

Fair warning. If you are super into music, you will roll your eyes back into your skull at my opinions on this stuff, and have a dozen reasons why I'm wrong. This blog is, as almost all of them are, just opinion.


It's hard to equate current U2 with the same band as recorded Achtung Baby. They're poles apart. As much of a joke as the band is now, back then, they were capable of recording decent tunes. Where the U2 original is a sharp-edged jagged noise, full of the chaos of existing in and moving through a modern city (Zoo Station is a stop on the Berlin metro, and U2 is code for another station on that metro line), the NIN cover is - and this isn't where I thought Reznor would take it - softer. More dreamlike. More textured. More like you are being whisked through this halogen-lit metropolis, with the howl of the trains hurrying through the tunnels echoing in front and behind.

Sure, I can probably be accused of bias - I'm a big fan of Nine Inch Nails and not so big a fan of U2 - but if you listen to the two side-by-side, you'll see what I mean. I more find myself in the mindset of the cover when on a train, ploughing through the dark, being shuttled from one pool of ground reality to the next.


I know, pure sin - considering Fear Factory to do something better than the great Gary Numan - but hear me out. For one thing, in the original, the synth is fantastic. I can't deny that. I just prefer the crunchier, grindier noise of those snarly guitars, with the electronics noise hovering in the background. It's heavy as a rhino in an ironworks, and I like that.

For bonus points? Gary Numan actually appears on this version as a vocalist. Yes. He recorded a new set of vocals for this specific version of this song. For further bonus points - this is the version he plays now. With that growling guitar instead of the low synth. If that isn't an endorsement of a cover version, I don't know what is.


So I like the original. I like the message. I like the brass section in the back. It's singable, it's catchy. It's hand-clappy at a festival. Foot stompy. It has that kind of pace to it, basically the same tempo as Grounds For Divorce or Sad But True. Which is fine, but I can't listen to it anymore, since the cover. Plain and simple, the cover makes the original seem a bit staid, a bit...boring.

So you double down on the tempo, you put in a singer like Amy who has this fantastic vocal tone, you swap out the instrumentation from a funeral march to a parade, and - you have this song which makes you want to actually get up and dance around. It is, in the parlance of the youth, An Absolute Bop. Anything I could want from the original is overtaken by this version. It's just... friggin... better.


I love Bob Dylan. I love Bob Dylan's songs. I hate hearing Bob Dylan sing. I have the same relationship with Leonard Cohen - they write the most masterful songs, but they really aren't the best people to sing them. So I kind of have to wait until someone comes along that wants to cover the songs I like, and I LOVE this one - and guess what. Adele did it, and she did it really well.

Yeah, it's not the best Dylan song, but I've always had a soft spot for it. It's very well written, and the feeling behind it is well conveyed by Adele, who is - lets face it - not a shabby vocalist. It may not carry the same grit as the original, and some like that grit. For me, though. It's this version.


Everything about the John Lennon version of this song pisses me off. I'm not Lennon's biggest fan - I'm not into the Beatles, I think George Harrison had three albatrosses around his neck - so even at his best, I find it hard to buy what he's selling. This isn't his best. It's insipid. It's limp-wristed flammery. It's lazy, and the piano refrain just immediately drives me to turn it off. I'm too cynical to buy this, sir. I don't buy it. Nor can I.

So. Along comes the A Perfect Circle cover, and it takes a song I previously hated for its floppy naivety and gives it a nasty, cynical sneer. That's all it takes. This constant, industrious stomp, reeling off all these ideals. Not a long-haired circle-glassed hippy that beat his wife but the noise of a political-corporate merger telling the world that everything will be fine, just do what I say. Much more fitting. Much more...real. Thank you.


Disclaimer: I really like both versions of this song. The Rancid original is an absolute bop. I mean, if you don't like Rancid, you won't like this, probably - but hey, nobody's perfect. It's great, and I dig it. Big arm-flaily bouncy fun, with a message that I appreciate. This is you in a bar with all your friends getting over that most recent knockback.

I hate a lot of breathy acoustic covers of songs. I don't hate this one. It still feels good, just quieter. It doesn't bop, but it still gets back up. This is the you that is collapsed on the couch with that same group of friends after that night in the bar, and realising you're surrounded by people you are chill with. Both sides of life are totally necessary, so I like that I can have this song either way - both different, both good.

Well, there's half a dozen reasons for the average music fan to lose respect for me - but give them a try. You might even find one you like.

Suggestions for good covers are always welcome here.

Sunday 17 June 2018

Always Check Your Boots

I'm going to begin with one of the stories my dad told me, one of my favourite ones.

Once upon a time he was driving through a godless bit of desert - he didn't tell me which one - when it started getting to the hot bit of the day, so he hauled the jeep over, put up some shade, took off his boots and got some shut-eye. He didn't want to cook the engine or himself.

Anyway. He sleeps for slightly longer than he intended. So when he wakes up, he's all a-flutter, as anyone is when they sleep for too long and they have somewhere to be.

So he does what everyone that lives in that kind of environment does - before he puts the boot back on, he checks it.

Finding himself eyeball-to-pinchers with one of the biggest scorpions he's ever seen.

So he says some choice words, probably something like "oh bother me that is quite a large example of Androctonus Crassicauda, I had best be careful," and grabs the heel of the boot and upends it over the side of the jeep. He hears a bump, feels the boot get lighter, looks inside once more just to make sure, then puts the boot on - minus its visitor.

He's still shaking his head and tutting over the encounter, so he only just notices in time that - as he picks up his other boot - it is even heavier. And it makes an angry sound.

He takes a look.

Your average Arabian Fat-Tailed Scorpion gets to about four inches. The one dad dumped out of his other boot was perhaps just a little bigger than that. The one in this boot? The one in this boot was about the size of a wharf rat, which is as big as necessary to fuck with you, plus a couple of inches.

He looks at this thing. Its tail is pointed at him, the claws and business end down in the heel of the boot.

He holds the boot over the edge of the jeep and shakes it.

The boot makes an angry noise. It doesn't get any lighter. There's no bump.

He shakes it again. The noise is angrier.

So he has to explain to his mother and siblings why he drove all the way home with only one boot, and a scorpion suddenly got a foot on the property ladder.

We only ever see a slice of someone. We don't know them completely - we can't. We only see the side of them they want to show us, or know how to show us, or think they should show us. My dad was the best dad he knew how to be, which - well, honestly, wasn't great at times. I suspect this is because his own father was totally alien to him, an old man even when my father was born, and not a kind or giving one according to anecdotal evidence.

I was lucky, insofar as when he got sick - not sick like a bad back, he had that since before I was born, but sick like cancer - we had a lot of time together to put things back together again, and there's nothing that takes the ego and sting out of a male-male relationship like terminal illness.

For a couple of years we repaired bridges and became friends again. I wasn't his alpha-male competition and he wasn't some loud angry tyrant. We talked about the world, he passed on a lot of good lessons, and we actually enjoyed each other's company.

Then at the end, when the palliative care involved painkillers and medication that truly started to mess with his perception of the world, things got odd again. His memory started lapsing. He'd forget that he asked me to do things, then get angry about it. He'd be three-quarters asleep most of the time. The last time I saw him I am not sure he recognised me.

I knew the alternative was pain that was basically unbearable, because my father was the kind of man that would only take painkillers under intense duress. Morphine stopped being strong enough. It was the ketamine that really started to cloud him.

I had the time to say goodbye, and I had time to say it before it became a rush. Which is good, because when I said it the last time, I honestly don't think he heard me.

He had no funeral. He despised religion. He was cremated in a private non-ceremony and my mum scattered his ashes.

I see a lot of him in myself. Not always things I like. My dad had a hell of a temper, and at times, so do I. The joy of knowing things. Pride in knowing you've done a good job, frustration when you can't or when some presumably unreasonable thing prevents you. Distrust of political and corporate organisations.

The mother of one of my favourite youtubers, Danny Avidan, once described his father in a very specific way: "He could turn lemonade into lemons." There's some of that in me, there was a lot of that in my dad. Like him, I'm not good at whimsy - and, like him I suspect, I suffer from depression.

He didn't like father's day much. For obvious reasons.

I talk a lot about lessons he taught me. Some of them deliberate, some of them by good or bad example. I think the one that I have found the most useful is to always pick your battles - but I think the one with the funniest story behind it is to always check your boots.

I still do. Every time I put them on.

Sunday 10 June 2018

People As Thorns

Most of us have been there: a relationship, friendship or personal situation that went sideways, fast and hard, and left deep wounds.

It's a pain that lasts, and it can be caused by all manner of things. One thing that has become increasingly clear to me throughout my life, which is a life somewhat dictated by bad health conditions, is that managing pain is very important.

How do you do that, though, when the pain is an internal one? When it's caused by a person rather than a physical trauma?

Not to say that physical trauma can't be caused by people, but I digress.

It sucks, but it IS going to hurt, for a while. Like, that won't go away. It's part of the process, and it sucks, and it continues to suck. It's why this blog isn't about making pain go away. It's about managing it.

Exacerbating it is the big risk, and a lot of people don't even necessarily know they are doing it.

I mean we've all done it to our meat, right? Our knee has made a funny noise and we've thought it might ache a little so we've just tried to walk it out - or as the Crossfit people call it, "active recovery" - and then the next day it is the size of a cantaloupe and feels like it is filled with molten glass.

If we're smart - we feel our knee do that little click-pop thing, then we slow down, we sit down, and we see how it feels. And then we go a little easier on it. And sure, the next day it aches - but it isn't the size of a cantaloupe, and it may well recover in a day, let alone a week.

We can do the same for our souls.

If this person hurt you - hurt you bad enough that it comes back at the most unsuspecting times and plagues you with anguish - then dealing with them isn't going to make it better.

So - if you can at all help it - don't.

Don't talk to them. Don't hang out with them. Don't randomly skim their social media. Don't spend time checking up on them.

It sounds kind of basic, maybe even childish, but - if you have no need to talk to them, if you aren't tied to any kind of responsibility that includes them, if the only real connection is that you two used to be together before this person did the thing they did...then there is no need.

We find this hard, though - because for a long time, this person was involved in our lives, and change is sometimes more difficult and intimidating to bear than abuse or torment. It gets easier, though. It's always easier to rip the plaster (band-aid to you folks in the US) off in one clean stroke and then ache through the aftermath, than to tug it off a micron at a time as if in dread of the discomfort.

Front-load your pain. Take it in one hit, then move past it.

The thing is that anything that could be gained by not doing this will end up bitter. If this person betrayed you, if this person hurt you bad enough that you want a revenge against them, then - tailing after them isn't going to help you.

There isn't a win condition, there.

They won't hurt the way you hurt, and certainly not visibly. They won't be disadvantaged the way you have been. They won't suffer that impact of poorly-imagined karmic justice that you thirst for - and even if something bad happens to probably won't be bad enough, because they'll get up afterwards, and how dare they recover when you still hurt?

You won't find victory there. You won't even find a draw.

The reason for this is pretty simple: it's because we think that, once Person X stumbles and falls the way we believe they should, the hurting will stop and that hollow feeling in our gut will go away. The moment they fall into the bear trap or the person they cheated on you with leaves them, you turn in glee to your inner self and wait for the hurt/hollow to vanish, and... just doesn't.

We do a lot of things to make that go away. A lot of folks don't even need to be damaged by anyone or anything specific to have that hurt/hollow in their gut. It is there already, for a variety of reasons - some of us are born with it. I've blogged about this kind of thing before, actually. Right over here. It's part of a four blog series I did on insecurity.

So what do we do about it? After we tear ourselves away from waiting for our temporary nemesis to fall into the bear trap?

We get on with it, honestly.

It is an oft-repeated truth that success is the best revenge, and it is one I fully believe in. Success comes in a variety of forms, but the most true way to succeed in this world is to put yourself in a situation that is better than the one you were in yesterday. Or last week, last month, last year - anything. Just to take a step up and know that it isn't leading to three steps down.

Step one of that is neutralising or discarded the things that hurt us, as previously mentioned. We have to take time to identify what is a negative influence, what is a drag on our minds and our souls, and work out how to cut it loose or streamline it to the point that it doesn't slow us down any more.

This in itself can be quite painful. We don't often like what we see when we study ourselves. That, however, is part of it. Realising that we're overly critical of our own selves, accepting that this is built into our brains as some ridiculous leftover of evolved-out behaviour, and taking that skewing of our perception of ourselves into account.

That's why we can't pin our happiness on competing against someone else. It will never be enough, because we're incapable of seeing our own worth properly, especially when we're clouded by anger and resentment. There will always be something that we find that sours even the sweetest victory against our adversary, because we'll always be looking for it.

So we cut them loose. And it hurts - and every now and then, that memory will drift back, of that good time we had.

And that's fine. Those times WERE good. Just make sure you also remember the bad times, too. We can go back and play an old video game and try and ignore its flaws, because those flaws won't wound us. Nostalgia for people is a trap.

So do what is best for you. Talk to your friends, surround yourself in things you enjoy, maybe find new things to enjoy entirely. Work hard, learn something new.

One day you will go the entire day without thinking about the thorn that stuck in your side, because you'll be too busy being your best self.

That will be a really good day.

Sunday 3 June 2018

Capitalism, iPhones and Cooperation

As always, all of this is just opinion, fairly poorly researched and mostly just done as a thought experiment.

Anyone else seen the meme about capitalism building your iphone?

I mean, it's a good zinger, isn't it? It's a good gotcha. There's no possible way someone could see something wrong with a system while in possession of something that that system created, right?



To participate and survive in a capitalist society - one that we are in, like it or not - one must have an income, either some kind of state benefit (usually hard-won and easily-rescinded) or a job (also hard-won and easily-rescinded). In order to get either of those things, one must have a phone - which means that a phone isn't a reward for being in a capitalist society. It's a necessity.

To state the obvious - the actual building of the phone is primarily conducted by automated machinery and underpaid human beings, not an overarching belief in the free market. Those who benefit the most from capitalism don't get very involved in the creation of such objects, even if they take away a lot from their creation. (Here's another link to my blog about cakes and surplus value.)

So carefully sidestepping around the widening hole in the statement, which would now more accurately read "But capitalism forces you to own a phone that you build for next to nothing and have to buy back from the people whose symbol is on it at a huge markup" - it is correct that the prevailing philosophy of many places in which these phones are sold (and sometimes made) is capitalism. what's the alternative?

Alright. So there's many different phone companies that produce many different phones, and every year put out a new set of phones. They're in competition with each other, which many claim is the best way to push innovation and lower prices. Sure, it also pushes down the wage they are willing to pay their workers in order to make sure they can keep prices low and also make high profits, but - sorry, I got distracted again. The fact is that the competition model is often hailed as the holy grail to producing the best product - which I am not really sure is strictly true.

I found it hard to track down the actual amount of money spent by each company - let's say for argument Samsung, Apple, Nokia, Huawei and LG - but let's assume it is quite a lot. Legal fees comprise of a not-insignificant slice of that pie, too. Nine-figure sums of money thrown back and forth between Samsung and Apple over minor design quibbles, because they are both trying so hard to be simultaneously distinct from each other and yet fit within the same market bubble that the public expect. (I talk about that over here, too. You ever noticed how most modern cars look exactly the same?)

What if these different phone companies weren't bound by the need to compete with each other? What if, instead, they were state-acquired and paid the same budget as they usually receive individually to co-operate with each other in order to produce a phone, not to sate the lusts of the free market, but to suit the needs of the citizen?

Of course, monopolies are bad, because companies with monopolies can't be trusted to act responsibly. However. Join me in a thought experiment, where we assume that there's laws that can actually make a corporate entity behave - say laws that lean more to the left hand side of the spectrum, rather than shoring up the holdings and powers of business and capital. Let's also assume in this thought experiment that we can trust our government. I know, I know. Just...bear with me here.

So you have five full-fledged phone divisions in each of these electronics companies. You put their development teams together. Some of them are guaranteed to be working on things that are either the same or very similar, so there's redundancy. So they instead work on something else. Something better, something new.

You have five marketing departments that are all doing the same job in order to fight against each other, which they no longer need to do. So you can afford to cut a significant part of the marketing budget, with little effect on demand for your product. In fact you can afford to reduce your production budget, too. Because you aren't making five ranges of phones, each of which has different technology. You're making one range of phones. Software development goes much the same way.

How would this affect the consumer? Well, a couple ways.

For one thing, no more proprietary competition between the phone brands means no more proprietary or exclusive software or access problems. Ever found out that the killer app you really want is an iPhone or Android exclusive? No more. Ever found that you can't import things easily from one software setup to the other? That's over too. My own personal favourite? There's no reason why your charge cables wouldn't be totally universal either. Just the very best one, suited for the needs of the product.

As previously discussed, phones are seen as an absolute necessity under capitalism. Despite poor people being treated like shit for having one that isn't the most visibly basic model one can buy, they are also told that if they want to achieve anything, they must have one. Most people are assumed to have a phone at least, often a smart phone, and at least have access to basic internet services.

So let's make that happen.

Where this phone program is government funded, the government introduces a minor tax to cover the cost of production, and provides their citizens a phone that they are entitled to - up to a specific standard. If you want a nicer model, and I do mean literally luxury, then you pay the additional cost yourself. Otherwise, you get a model that will do you right for the next three years.

What this would mean is a guaranteed income with savings across the board in its production, so you could actually afford to pay the people making your phones better - which is something that the state could mandate as an condition for receiving the universal phone contract in the first place.

Imagine how good a phone you could have if the best parts of literally every major new phone release of the past five years were coalesced into one universally-supported handset that has access to every app store. Phones that are made to exacting standards and made to last, because that's they aren't relying on repeat business to make their money. They have guaranteed repeat business, state funded.

Assuming the state can hold this conglomerate company to heel, and encourage it to produce the best it can - and assuming the state doesn't immediately turn this whole program into a means to profit from people's taxes - you could produce the best mobile phone on earth.

Something you couldn't do under capitalism.

Of course, all of this is just theoretical, because we know full well that those five companies would never let go of their own personal brands, that the current method of making those big bucks is serving them just fine and will continue to do so, and that our current crop of government would very happily abuse the notion of this system to make personal profits.

Because this vision of what could happen, of the thing that could happen for us in even one industry and one walk of life, is one that comes from beyond the all-encompassing grasp of greedy men in suits - which is one of the universal truths of this world.

So whenever I hear about how my phone was built by capitalism, I imagine how good my phone could be if it was built with a little more socialism.

Just a thought.